Am awash in notes and photos from Dubrovnik, Zagreb and Prague, but it turns out my chica and fellow food dork kopibren is dropping into Berlin at month's end. So, wurst things wurst...
Check in, chuck your bags, and charge over to the Curry 36 stand in Western Kreuszberg for potentially the best of the (curry)wurst in town -- grilled sausages sliced and drenched in ketchup and mayo and sprinkled with a mild chili powder. Death by drowning in this dip would not be a dishonourable one, methinks.
1 sausage with sauce cost €1.50 and 2 sausages with fries (below) cost less than €5.
But be sure to show up hungry (or like me, greedy), or with friends, so that you can ALSO partake of Mustafas kebabs just a few steps away from Curry 36. The kebab stand will be hard to miss. The painted cable box greets you as you exit Mehringhamm station, as does the largest barrel of grilling kebab meat I have ever seen. The kebab itself will be hard to fit in your mouth, stuffed as it is with salad, roast veggies and feta. Again, this cost less than €5.
Given their great bite-for-buck, I was tempted to simply spend all our meals in Berlin cruising wurst and kebab stands in each neighbourhood. Temptation came in all sorts of contraptions! E.g., a strap-on hot dog stand, and another fashioned from a converted wheelchair. Berlin's creativity at its wurst.
But that kind of kebab-crawl would likely require a lot more late-night clubbing than we had time or money more. So in our short stay we sampled only Tresor, a converted power station basement down the street from Hotel A&O Mitte where we were staying. The house music even at 4am wasn't as hardcore as the uber-bunker setting (Guess I should've gotten off my ass and headed to Panorama, a recommendation from my music and nightlife expert pal Mogs).
I was quite amused by Tresor's doorbitch, though. And I quote: "Your sandals are a problem for the club...if you fall down the stairs it's your problem".
We're not in London Zone 1 anymore, Toto.
Also tempting was Sage Club (down the street from Tresor), but Babs and I had dresscode problems there as well. Namely, we didn't have any leather or PVC. So we boogied outside on the street corner where the music was pumping out of a building vent... with kebabs of course.
We took in a more genteel side of the city the next evening. Fellas was a cute bistro in the recently posh Prenzlauer Berg, which served giant and well made salads along with other classic continental offerings.
On a walking tour of "lofts-for sale" buildings in the neighbourhood after dinner, we chanced upon the very charming Lorberth cafe, which offered a range of organic desserts, coffees and teas (the latter served in large bowls). We settled on the delectable and none-too-sweet "old fashioned German blueberry cake". I was quite taken with their shabby-chic lampshade -- a paper bag stamped with their logo and placed over a candle in a glass.
Couldn't afford it this time, unfortunately, but next time around The Shy Chef's underground supper club and ETA Hoffman are top on my list. Those of your who make it there before I do, please let me know what you think.
Wall to Wall Sightseeing
I realised only afterwards that the inedible part of my tour of Berlin centred around a "wall" theme.
2009 being the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Alexanderplatz had a magnificent exhibition on the history of the wall, the long-running opposition against it and the events leading up to its eventual fall.
As Babs and I wandered around the forest of concrete blocks at the Holocaust Memorial (think an abstract representation of a cemetary) for example, we watched this kid below scamper back and forth across the block-tops. He'd cross our path from above every so often. A minute or 2 later an angry security guard would chase from behind from the ground below.
A few members of another group would race ahead of their friends, duck behind a block, and turn on them as they approached and "gun them down" like one of those 1st-person shoot-em-up games.
Curious. Chilling. Maybe too telling.
For my Cold-War-spy-novel fan Dad, I went to pay my respects at Checkpoint Charlie, the point of transit between the old West and East Berlin for many an emissary of espionage. The only walls here now are the ones going up on vast construction sites. The reconconstruction of the checkpoint itself looked sadly a tad kitschy -- the 2nd photo below is more telling of how history played out.
What is left of the Berlin Wall itself is now better known as the East Side Gallery, a series of murals along the river Spree, now dotted with cafes, restaurants, and river tourboats. Various artists -- some new and some returning from their original murals right after 1989 -- are being commissioned to repaint sections of the wall.
There are tons of walking and biking tours you can do in Berlin, depending on your niche interest, be it history, pub-crawling or even exploring underground tunnel systems. We signed up for the Alternative Berlin walking tour, and got a fabulous 5-hour introduction to the city's best known street artists and popular street culture hangouts. The tour meets under the TV tower at Alexanderplatz at 11am and 1pm daily, and takes tips rather than charges a fee.
Above: Tacheles (meaning Straight Talk in Yiddish), the landmark artist squatter colony, is worth visiting as soon as possible, as it's currently fighting an eviction notice from building owner Fundus, an investment fund that's keen to build luxury apartments on the site (Related news story here). Right now, goodness knows why, really. As it is, Berlin is a city of ~4 million people but the city has space and infrastructure for 8 million. And there's that little detail of global financing still being in the toilet. Anyway, those among you who feel strongly can sign a petition against the eviction notice onsite.
Overall, I can't believe that it took me this long to get Berlin on my radar screen (evidence that I was never built to be one of the cool kids, really). This city -- and onetime a tale of 2 cities -- has seen the best of times, and the wurst and worst of times. So much history, so much new energy, and possibly most importantly, just so much space for all of it to keep growing without falling all over each other.
But to those who haven't been or who have been long missing: Go now. Go soon. Because, really, new walls are coming up. And eventually the time will come, when they can be accessed only via checkbook charlie.
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